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Farming feature: A new milestone on my 'template' farming journey

PUBLISHED: 06:00 28 March 2019 | UPDATED: 11:17 28 March 2019

Fertiliser being applied to the field  Picture: BRIAN BARKER

Fertiliser being applied to the field Picture: BRIAN BARKER

Brian Barker

Now in my third year of my AHDB Strategic Farm journey, both the workload and my effort are as great as ever.

Drain water sampling  Picture: BRIAN BARKERDrain water sampling Picture: BRIAN BARKER

A great deal of political water has flown turbulently under the bridge and the end point is no clearer; the mud still churned up.

The farming vision for the UK has changed and will change again but my Strategic Farm vision is much clearer.

The traditional farming landscape, I believe, is on the verge of a big change, either forced by the purchasing power of the general public but more likely by government policy. The change I hope will lead to farmers adopting new holistic approaches and this is the direction that the ADHB Strategic Farm work is going to concentrate on, in the remaining years.

The impact of agriculture through farming methods does affect the landscape; every action has a reaction. The damaging part of these actions can be reduced by the attention to detail that farmers apply throughout the year. The Strategic Farm is providing a journey that farmers can get involved in and follow, to highlight some of the key effects that farming methods have on the wider environment and which influence farms’ profits financially.

Drain water sampling  Picture: BRIAN BARKERDrain water sampling Picture: BRIAN BARKER

This year, we have field demonstrations designed to try and encourage farmers to look at their approaches and to see if we can get others to consider their own farming system.

We are looking at:

 Nitrate leaching to see if the use of over-winter cover crops and different establishment techniques can alter the amount of nitrate leaching and how this idea goes on to affect the following crop.

Soil structure assessments  Picture: BRIAN BARKERSoil structure assessments Picture: BRIAN BARKER

 Low pesticide input usage. Five varieties are being farmed with different levels of plant protection and product investment: ‘Untreated’, ‘How low can we go’, ‘Farm standard’ and ‘Rolls Royce’, will give us intriguing costs of production for the different varieties once they are taken to yield.

 How we can improve plant biomass going into the winter after plant emergence from the soil, to see if we can reduce the need for inorganic fertiliser. Can we build a bigger root structure through fertiliser placement into the root zone; will this scavenge more nutrients and so reduce the farm’s need to apply fertiliser?

 Our influence on soil biota (everything that lives in the soil), farmland biodiversity and the pests associated with the commercial crops grown here. The recent loss of key plant protection products from the market place, due to their links to bee health and environmental impact, means that we need to adopt better cultural control methods and become more efficient in forecasting risk, to make sure that farmer intervention comes when pest threshold levels are surpassed.

There is much going on, and unlike in parliament, we have a clear vision of where we are going: showcasing examples of Integrated Farm Management and ‘Conservation Agriculture’. So please keep an eye out for updates and Open Day dates through the summer to learn more.

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